By Ronnie Weston| July 18, 2012 at 9:55 PM CDT - Updated June 27 at 6:16 PM
LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) – Recently, 16 Arkansas Game and Fish Commission-owned wildlife management areas around the state were designated as the Sweet Sixteen. The purpose of the program is to provide a more diverse hunting opportunity within Arkansas. The 16 areas are located throughout the state and were selected based on their location and deer management potential.
AGFC deer biologist Cory Gray says that a free permit will be required on the 16 WMAs. "In order to capture hunter-use information on the WMAs, a free Sweet Sixteen Area Use Permit is required prior to any hunting activities," Gray said. "These permits will be available by Sept. 15 and can be found only on our (AGFC) website. Hunters will visit our website, enter their contact information, select the WMAs they plan to hunt, and then print their free use permit," he says.
Gray explained that deer management will focus on both the male and female segments of the deer herd, and target deer populations will correspond with the available habitat present. "Females will be managed to ensure a productive, balanced deer herd. The number of fawns recruited into the population annually is a crucial component in deer management," he said.
Gray said that in buck management, there are several different ways to reach a desired outcome: limit hunter-days, limit harvest methods, reduce bag limits or apply antler restrictions. "The first three are the easiest, and certainly the most simple; however, antler restrictions have proven to be the most effective at shifting buck harvest pressure into target age classes. Using these methods, biologists are able to develop antler restriction criteria that will focus harvest on age specific bucks. This type of management will be incorporated into the Sweet Sixteen where peak buck harvest will consist of 3½-year-olds and older," Gray says.
Each of the Sweet Sixteen will have a management plan outlining deer management activities. This plan will be incorporated into the area's master plan that details all management on the property. Plans will outline harvest objectives, management strategies, and monitoring.
Data will be gathered to ensure initiated management strategies are successfully working, Gray said. "Biologists will collect a wide range of data from each of the Sweet Sixteen including: harvest totals, biological indices from harvest deer, thermal imagery surveys to provide deer density estimates, browse surveys to determine plant species diversity, abundance, and deer utilization, and summer disease monitoring to ensure parasite loads are within acceptable levels. All data collected will be analyzed to monitor management practices. Management strategies can be modified depending on data analysis results," he said.
Harvest data and biological indices will be collected annually, but the other forms of monitoring (thermal imagery, browse surveys, and summer disease monitoring) will be collected on a three-year rotation. This schedule will result in a full comprehensive data collection from each WMA every third year. The following is a listing of Sweet Sixteen WMAs and their monitoring rotation.